Area basketball teams set for regional finals
Posted: February 23, 2013
WINCHESTER — The Millbrook boys’ basketball team was once something of a regular at this stage of the playoffs, competing in three Region II finals in four years from 2005 to 2008.
This year marks their first appearance in one since. But after going through what they’ve gone through the past two years, Pioneers coach Scott Mankins doesn’t get the sense his team — which has locked up a state tournament berth regardless of the outcome of their game tonight — is just happy to still be playing.
“These guys have been close [to the state tournament] the last two years,” Mankins said. “I think it was really big to get [Thursday’s win] to get us over the hump.
“They’re not taking anything for granted. They’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
It’s the first time since 2007 that three area schools have advanced to this point, but each of the three — all seeded lower than their opponent — will definitely have their work cut out for them.
The Pioneers (14-10), seeded seventh in Region II, Division 4 will face No. 1 Potomac Falls (24-4) at 6 p.m. at Potomac Falls High School. The Panthers won state titles in 2010 and 2011 and were state semifinalists last year, and they were Dulles District regular season co-champions.
The Handley boys (20-4), seeded fourth in Region II, Division 3, must try and take down No. 3 Loudoun Valley (25-3), which shared the Dulles regular season title with Potomac Falls and won the Dulles Tournament. Like the Judges, the Vikings were also a state quarterfinalist last year. Their game will tip off at 7 p.m. at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville.
The Clarke County girls (22-5), seeded third in Region B, Division 2, might have the toughest task, as they have yet to find an answer for defending Group A, Division 2 champion George Mason (22-5), the top seed. The Mustangs have won all three meetings with Clarke County, beating them 49-46 and 41-30 in the regular season and 62-43 in the Bull Run District final. The two squads will face off at 6 p.m. at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.
Millbrook comes into tonight’s game with a lot of momentum after having dispatched Sherando — a team that swept the Pioneers during the regular season — in the regional quarterfinals and Briar Woods — a team Millbrook split with in the regular season — in Thursday’s semifinals by the score of 70-67.
Thursday’s win was a major breakthrough for a Pioneers team that lost to Charlottesville in double overtime in the regional semifinals two years ago, and lost to Loudoun Valley in last year’s regional semifinals with star guard Rze Culbreath unable to play because of injury.
They’ll now face a strong Potomac Falls team that went 2-0 against Briar Woods this season and 2-2 against Loudoun Valley, a team that Millbrook lost to 68-44 on Dec. 15.
The Panthers may be without 6-foot-6 center Steve Tondi because of a shoulder injury suffered in Potomac Falls’ 79-53 semifinal win over Loudoun County Thursday, but Millbrook likely has to be more concerned with the Panthers’ two all-district players anyway.
Potomac Falls coach Jeff Hawes said 6-3 sophomore forward Wanya Allen is averaging 17 points and eight rebounds a game and freshman guard Michael Janowski is averaging 12 points a game.
“Wanya is taking on a larger role with Greg Graves [now at Mt. St. Mary’s] leaving,” Hawes said. “He’s got a lot of good post moves and can step out and hit the 3.”
Millbrook will obviously take the open looks if they’re there, but Mankins also wants his team to work for high-percentage, close-range shots against a Potomac Falls team that runs the floor well and can apply pressure.
“We can’t get into a shooting contest,” Mankins said. “We need to be able to move the ball and share it. On defense, we have to rebound the ball and limit them to one shot per possession.”
Hawes said there’s no question that his main goal is to contain Culbreath (20.8 points, 5.5 steals, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists), the Northwestern District Player of the Year.
“We’re looking at number of different options for guarding him,” Hawes said.
While Millbrook is looking to make some noise after finally breaking through to the regional finals, Handley is hoping that the experience of competing in the regional finals last year will better prepare them for this season.
The Judges lost on the road to Fluvanna County in last year’s regional final, and the Judges return five players who played significant minutes in last year’s postseason.
Handley is coming off a 58-55 win over No. 1 Western Albemarle that punched its ticket to the state tournament, and that Warrior team featured three players who were 6-7, 6-6 and 6-4.
The Loudoun Valley team that the Judges will face also features three players who stand between 6-5 and 6-7, and they also happen to be the Vikings’ three all-district players.
Josh Grimard (6-6) was the Division 3 Player of the Year in the Dulles, and he was joined by 6-7 Paul Rowley on the first team. Vikings coach Chad Dawson said both players are averaging more than 16 points and eight rebounds a game.
Handley coach Tommy Dixon said those two in particular play differently than Western’s front line.
“When people think of that kind of size they think about people who can dominate in the paint, but they can step out and shoot from the perimeter,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to get out there and try and contain them.”
Jovon Miller (6-5) averages 12 rebounds a game to lead Loudoun Valley, whose lone common opponent with Handley is a Millbrook squad that the Judges beat two out of three times.
“I think Handley’s the more athletic team, but the advantage we’ve had with teams has been how well our size has been able to play out on the perimeter,” Dawson said.
Led by 6-8 center Cameron Jackson (18.6 points, 10.8 rebounds) a Judges team that has won eight straight games appears to be playing its best basketball.
“You hope that the momentum is going to be there,” Dixon said. “If we do the things we’ve been doing, we have the chance to play a good game.”
Clarke County — which is making its first state tournament trip since winning the Group A state title in 2007 — is led by Sydney Chrane (18.1 points, 8.2 rebounds) and Anna Blue Catlett (13.4 points), both All-Bull Run District selections.
Based on previous games against George Mason, it will be key for Clarke County to take care of the basketball and also somehow limit Stephanie Cheney, the Group A all-state player who has committed to play for the University of Pennsylvania next year. Cheney has scored 80 points in three games against the Eagles this season.
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1